In the Muslim-majority nation of Maldives, a man stunned an audience during questions and answers period in a lecture given by an Islamic cleric, by stating that he had chosen freedom of conscience not to follow Islam. The man, Mohamed Nazim, was promptly attacked, taken into custody, and has been threatened with death and beheading, or other punishments for choosing his freedom of conscience. Maldives media are reporting that it is the first time in many hundreds of years that a Maldivian has publicly renounced Islam, since Sultan King Hassan IX converted to Christianity in 1552 and was deposed.
The Maldives constitution mandates that all citizens of Maldives must be Muslims. A December 2009 study showed the Maldives (with a 99 percent literacy rate) to be in the top 5 percent of the worst nations for religious freedom. It is a nation that has been building its criminal law based on Sharia law, and whose Parliament bans non-Islamic houses of worship. There have been repeated reports on Maldives government publicly whipping of women and the Maldives is in the bottom rankings of nations with a global gender gap.
The Maldives is also a nation that, on May 13, 2010, was elected to be part of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Haveeru newspaper reported that Mohamed Nazim came up to ask a question of Islamic cleric Zakir Naik, stating “Dr Zakir Naik. I am a Maldivian. I am still struggling to believe in religion. That is why I just came to the front of this row. I was born a Maldivian. My parents taught me the religion of Islam. They are good practitioners, actually. I read a lot of books. I have read the translation of Quran. Yet, I still do not believe in a religion. So what do you say, [about] my verdict in Islam?”
Islamic cleric Zakir Naik asked “are you a Muslim?” and Mohamed Nazim replied “I am not.” Zakir Naik has a long history of calling for the death penalty for “apostates” in both Muslim majority nations and other parts of the world.
The Haveeru newspaper reported that Zakir Naik responded by stating: “according to Prophetic traditions, every child is born as a Muslim and that a Muslim is one who submits his/her will to God. In Islam, death penalty should not necessarily be evoked on every person who leaves Islam, but to those who propagate the non-Islamic faith and speak against Islam, he added.”
The Haveeru newspaper report states that his question “sparked comments of hatred from an angry crowd of around 11,000 with many calling to kill him and attack him, while Naik was answering the question. Several people rushed towards Nazim, who was sitting at a back row after moving away from the microphone, as an official of the Islamic Ministry tried to escort him out. Police, however, came between Nazim and the crowd and escorted him into custody.” The Haveeru newspaper report also stated that a crowed gathered outside the police station and demanded that Mohamed Nazim be handed over to the crowd. The Haveeru newspaper report stated that “They shouted anti-atheism slogans and called for Nazim’s beheading.”
In a separate report, the Haveeru newspaper stated that Maldives Islamic Ministry would arrange for religious “counseling” for Mohamed Nazim while he is in custody.
Another report by the Haveeru newspaper stated how Maldives lawyers felt that Mohamed Nazim deserved such counseling before receiving the death penalty or other punishments, stating that: “While some local lawyers claim Nazim is eligible for punishment both by Maldives laws and Islamic Shari’a, others argue only Shari’a could be evoked on him. Mohamed Ibrahim Waheed, a defense lawyer said Nazim must first be counseled giving him the chance to repent before considering capital punishment. ‘First, he should be counseled. If he does not take the advice and repent, the penalty stated in Shari’a should be evoked on him. According to Shari’a, the punishment for apostasy is death,’ he said. Waheed further argued that Nazim could be charged under the Religious Unity Act, for disrupting the religious unity of the country. A state prosecutor who wished to remain anonymous said Nazim could be prosecuted for legal disobedience.”
The Maldives newspaper Minivan News reports that a Maldives Islamic group is calling for the death of Mohamed Nazim. Minivan News reports that “The Islamic Foundation has called for self-declared apostate Mohamed Nazim to be stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to death if he does not repent and return to Islam…Today the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives issued a press statement calling on judges to give Nazim the opportunity to repent ‘and if he does not, then sentence him to death as Islamic law and Maldivian law agree.’ ”The Islamic Foundation believes that the person who announces apostasy should be punished according to Islamic laws,’ the NGO said, warning that Nazim represented ‘a disturbance to the religious views and the religious bonds that exist with Maldivians.’ ‘Hereby if this man does not do his penance and come back to the Islamic religion, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives calls to take the citizenship away from this man as mentioned in the Maldivian constitution.’ If case crossed into areas not covered by the laws of the country, ‘then the judges should rely on Islamic law,’ the NGO stated, as per article 142 of constitution which says judiciary shall look into Islamic shar’ia on matters not covered in law, and sentence accordingly.” Malaysian Miadhu news also reported on such calls for the death of Mohamed Nazim in their story “Islamic Foundation calls on death sentence for Nazim, if not repented “
According to the constitution of Maldives, “The judges are independent, and subject only to the constitution and the law. When deciding matters on which the Constitution or the law is silent, judges must consider Islamic Shari’ah.”
The speaker at the Maldives event that Mohamed Nazim attended, Zakir Naik, has a long history of calling for violence against those who choose their universal human right of freedom of conscience and leave Islam. Religious extremist Zakir Naik has repeatedly called for denying human beings their universal human rights of freedom of conscience, calling those who leave Islam as “traitors.” The London Times has quoted Zakir Naik as stating that “People who change their religion should face the death penalty.”
In a widely broadcast video, Zakir Naik has called for the death penalty for those who leave Islam and promote another religion as “apostates.” In the broadcast, Zakir Naik states “if a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim and propagates his/her new religion, then it is as good as treason. There is a ‘death penalty’ in Islam for such a person. In many countries, the punishment for treason is also death. If an army general discloses his army’s secrets to another country, then there is a ‘death penalty’ or life imprisonment for such a person according to the laws of most of the countries. In the broadcast, Zakir Naik also states that the death penalty for leaving Islam (“apostasy”) should also apply to “non-Muslim countries.” Zakir Naik also challenges other “Islamic scholars” who believe in such death penalty for “apostates” to extend such defiance of religious freedom not just to Muslim majority nations, but to the entire world. Zakir Naik states “If these scholars are really righteous people then they must welcome their own principle (of death for apostates) in the non-Muslim countries as well.”
Zakir Naik has also reportedly stated that women must cover themselves, and reject “revealing Western dress,” or they are “susceptible to rape.” Zakir Naik is infamously known for his defense of Osama Bin Laden and stating that “every Muslim should be a terrorist.”
Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) promotes freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as our unqualified, universal human rights. We challenge those who deny such universal human rights, including the right to change one’s religion as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 18 of the UDHR reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
R.E.A.L. Maldives Reports:
Zakir Naik Background: